Student takes pride as Guthrie bell ringer

Tucked away in a small little janitorial room in the Academic Complex, Louisville senior Paige McCord strokes many of the bell chimes that resonate from the Guthrie Bell Tower. From the Beatles to Ed Sheeran songs to the Hobbit and Harry Potter soundtracks, McCord plays to put a smile on the faces of people as they navigate the Hill. “I have so much freedom to play whatever I want,” McCord says. “I like playing pop music on the bell tower because it denies all expectations. The irony of Iggy Azalea on the tower is great.” Nick Wagner/HERALD

Andrew Henderson

The Guthrie Bell Tower is a staple at WKU. Students are constantly captivated by its melodic sounds, how the Roman numeral for four is incorrect on the tower’s clock face and the stoic figure that stands in front of Mass Media and Technology Hall.

Yet behind every great bell tower is an even greater woman. 

Paige McCord, senior from Louisville, doesn’t typically go around campus receiving congratulations for the work she does operating Guthrie Bell Tower. She said remaining a mystery and flying under the radar is a fun part of the job. 

“It’s kind of like being a fly on the wall,” she said.

McCord started her job at the tower last August and will carry the legacy until she graduates. McCord received this job as part of a scholarship through the music department. Jennifer Adam, associate professor of music, serves as McCord’s faculty partner. Adam said McCord first came to mind when thinking of a replacement for the tower’s operator.

“I wanted to find a student who I knew would appreciate the tradition that had been set by previous players,” said Adam in an email. 

Adam said she is the only faculty member who can operate the carillon system that powers the tower. The carillon is a unique instrument that not many institutions use. WKU’s carillon system powers 45 cast metal bells and weighs about 25,000 pounds, according to WKU archives. The carillon is operated through a keyboard that McCord has the freedom to play.  

“I want to be the cool bell ringer,” McCord said. 

McCord said she plays the bells live on the piano about once a month for anywhere from half an hour to an hour. She plays when her schedule allows her to, but the carillon system runs on automatic times as well. 

The bells also go off on special occasions, such as when WKU wins a football game. 

“President Ransdell has a button in his suite that peals the bells when we win. That’s why the bells go off crazy,” she said. 

McCord said some songs are already put into the carillon system such as “College Heights,” the Fight Song and “My Old Kentucky Home” and are always ready to be played. She takes her creative freedom very seriously as she played “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea, “Bang Bang” by Jessie J and some Harry Potter earlier this week.

“I’ll be playing some things and go out and people will be dancing under the bell tower, and I love it. I think it’s so much fun,” McCord said. 

Having a student be at the helm of the tower is something both Adam and McCord take pride in. Adam said she believes the bell tower is a voice for the university and echoes throughout the campus and the community as well. 

“I play the carillon on occasion, but as a voice and sound associated with WKU, it is important that a student voice is heard, as well,” Adam said. 

McCord sees her job as an opportunity to secretly give back to the university and that’s what makes it a special thing for her. Giving back to the university and the students is a definite plus as McCord sits in the small room and plays. 

“Being able to brighten someone’s day makes being in this janitor’s closet of a little room, when I have to move the big air blower out of my way to sit down, makes it all worth it,” McCord said.